The art of saying no.

How often do you use the word ‘no?’ And I don’t mean in the usual way, like answering a child in class who asks – “can I gowa toilet?” or by replying to your mum when she asks, “can you empty the dishwasher?” I mean, saying no when that is really the answer you want to give but feel you can’t for fear of upsetting someone, letting them down or in case you encounter the guilt that may follow after using it.

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I have come to the conclusion that there are three types of people in the world. The ones who say and do what they want with no thought at all, ones who internalise the reality of what they want and think but on the surface and on the whole, give answers that will please and keep the peace and finally, those who are just genuinely, sickeningly nice people who do anything and everything to please others! And I suppose, there’s a possibility that some people are a mix of all, or some of the aforementioned.

All too often, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we will occasionally find ourselves in situations where we are being asked to do things or spend time with people we don’t know too well and have no inclination to either. However, when we are put in that tricky situation when you are asked by them or a mutual friend to do something, we, well, definitely myself, find ourselves automatically spurting out the word – “yes.” And all the time internally thinking, “why on earth did I just agree to that?” and spending the days before worrying about the upcoming event.

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Over the past year I’ve been placed in a position where the word ‘no’ or variations of it have had to be used more honestly than ever before in my life. I’ve always been a mix of the three ‘types’ of people I just mentioned, depending on how I’m feeling on a certain day, week or month! On the whole, I am a people pleaser. I like to be kind and nice and really, really hate confrontation. But, due to life experiences thrust onto my path in recent years, I’ve had to grow some balls and realise that actually, we only get one life and we should live it, as much a possible, how we want to, with people we want to.

Now, of course, there are people and situations in life that you want to avoid but that doesn’t mean you have to be nasty to them. On the contrary, there’s no need to be nasty to people, a lesson in life is that we can’t and won’t like everyone that enters our lives. Some people will always just be colleagues, some acquaintances and some become treasured friends. But no matter what category people end up in, unless something truly catastrophic has happened, you should always be civil, because let’s face it, if we said or did things to some people that we’d like to, we might get into trouble!

I’ve had to learn to say ‘no’ more often to protect myself and help myself heal. I learnt quite quickly that by saying ‘yes’ to people when really my mind and body were saying ‘no’ (I’m sure there are a few of you singing lyrics in your head now to R.Kelly!) I was disadvantaging myself and my recovery. I have been extremely lucky that the majority of my support system understand that when I cancel things, it must mean that I really and truly can’t be there and function like a normal human being. There have, of course, been the odd few times when “friends” have not understood this and that is when the self doubt comes into play. My mind has then questioned whether I have upset my friends, let them down, maybe I have even pushed them away. But, again, as I have learnt the hard way, those people really weren’t your friends in the first place. That’s such a hard concept to grasp when all you’ve done is be ill and they just can’t deal with that.


On the outside to many people, they will see me as a strong character but I’ve had that stronger exterior bumped and bruised over the past year. I’ve questioned many things but that has also meant I’ve had time to evaluate many aspects of my life. Working as a teacher means that you form very close bonds with the people you work with and as I have found, many of these people become very close friends. But moving to Dubai and working in such a ridiculously large school meant that you can’t be as inclusive as you may once have been! I learnt that actually, it’s okay to have colleagues and it’s okay that some of these colleagues become friends and some don’t. It’s a matter of who you want to spend your social time with, talk to about things of meaning and who you can be totally yourself around. It was hard in Dubai because there is that element of becoming part of an expat family and supporting each other. But after that first year when you cling to anyone and everyone for dear life, you start to filter out and spend more time with the people you have more in common with and I learnt that that’s okay. As I said before, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ‘friendly’ to others, it’s just that those relationships were of a different nature.

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In smaller environments it’s much harder to do this but I think because I had so many new life experiences in Dubai, I’ve come back feeling more confident in thinking, I don’t have to include everyone because it’s alright to not be friends with everyone. Sometimes, we have to be selfish. I’ve pondered this word because it throws such a negative light on whatever your’e talking about. I had several conversations with a few people about what the word is I’m looking for to describe this ‘selfishness.’ Is it really ‘selfish’ to spend time with the people you care about most and do things you want to do? Of course there has to be give and take, but if they are people in your circle then that’s not a problem. If you know what word I’m looking for, please let me know!

Learning to say ‘no’ is so hard when it doesn’t come naturally. I have this overwhelming need in me to not let people down, for them to not be disappointed in me. It has been educational to me to realise that actually, whether in your personal and professional life, if people know you and care about you, they would rather you were open and honest with them and then together, you can find a way forward. In my case I also wear a mask a lot at the moment, I want to appear ‘fine’ to people and I’m learning that that doesn’t always help me. By not being honest and saying, “well actually no, today’s not a good day” people think that’s the truth and wonder, why isn’t she coming to things, why isn’t she working, why, why, why? So gradually, I’m being more honest without becoming the moaning Minnie no one wants to talk to.

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I honestly think this is a much more female problem. In my experience, men are much more care free about who and what they spend their time on. As women, we fret and worry about hurting people or people then talking about us behind our backs…and believe me, as women, we all know that person who is vicious behind our backs – we aren’t that stupid! So therefore, unless absolutely necessary i.e organised events, meetings where your paths may cross, it’s important to turn things on it’s head and consider – do they include me? Do they benefit my life like I benefit theirs? Do I know of times when they’ve made me feel rubbish about myself? And if that’s the case, they are an acquaintance, someone to be civil to but not to spend your treasured personal time and space with. It’s a hard thing to grasp at first but believe me, it gets easier. That person will never call you out on it and if they do, remember, you never, ever have to justify what you do in your own time, period.


Social media plays a part in this so much more than it did even a few years ago. Being un friended is the ultimate low…but is it? I’m not talking here about the friend you made at the pub ten years ago that you haven’t seen since, I’m talking about the people you see often and are actual face to face friends! If they un friend you without having the guts to call you or see you to talk about things that may be getting under their skin, then that’s their loss not yours. If your “friendship” with someone ends by an un-friending or blocking on FaceBook, they have a lot of growing up to do and it’s more of a reflection on them than you.

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Even as a thirty year old woman, I felt I needed to write about this topic because it is something that affects me and I know affects many of my friends. How sad is that? Surely by this age we should have the self confidence to do what makes us and our lives the happiest? Life isn’t about social media updates, likes and shares. It’s about time, love and memories. I don’t see some of my closest friends for weeks and sometimes even months but that doesn’t stop us being in touch and I know when I see them it will be like nothings changed. I know that with any of them, if I say ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ they won’t be angry, they’ll be sad I can’t be there (maybe!) but it won’t alter our friendship in the slightest…and that’s what is worth more than anything else in the world.  It’s something to ponder on anyway…

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Spend your time wisely because you can’t get it back.



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